Can I Change Child Support or Custody Terms after My Divorce Is Final?

Your children are what’s most important and, even after divorce, your questions don’t stop about how to give them the best care. There may come a time when you want to change child custody or support arrangements from what they were in your final divorce decree. 

You will need a court order for that. Here’s when and how you can take action.

Can child support be modified after the divorce is final?

Child support can sometimes be changed, or modified, after a divorce has been finalized. If there is a substantial change in circumstances, one parent can ask the court to hear their argument for why the amount of child support should be changed. 

Here are a few examples of how a child support modification could play out.

Non-custodial parent has a change of circumstances

Let’s say a non-custodial parent who normally pays child support loses their job. They can no longer afford to make child support payments. The non-custodial parent can petition for a modification of their child support obligation.

Note that in this scenario, it's likely that a court will require both parents to return to court every few months to provide an update on the non-custodial parent's job situation. Upon gaining new employment, the court would recalculate child support, and the non-custodial parent would probably have to start paying again.

Custodial parent moves away

Let’s say the custodial parent has been offered a job in another state. The new job pays significantly more than their current job, but it also diminishes the amount of time the other parent can spend with their child.

Assuming the court allows the custodial parent to move out of state with the child, the custodial parent could petition for a decrease in their monthly child support obligation since they are unable to spend as much time with the child and the custodial parent is making more money. The non-custodial parent may be able to reduce their child support obligations or contribute financially through other means, such as daycare costs or educational expenses.

Custodial parent goes to jail

Let’s say the custodial parent is arrested and sentenced to several months in jail. The non-custodial parent could petition the court for a modification of their child support obligations while the custodial parent is in jail, provided that they become the custodial parent. In this situation, the court could eliminate the child support obligations, even if just temporarily.

How to legally modify child support post-divorce

To change a child support obligation post-divorce, a change in circumstance is needed. The change must not have been anticipated at the time the existing order was made. It can't be a temporary change with an end date, and it must be a substantial one.

  • If you have a marital settlement agreement in which child support was negotiated, you and your former spouse could agree to new terms. You would then submit these new terms to a judge for review and approval.
  • You could submit a request to the state agency monitoring your child support. The agency won't do a review on their own, so you'd need to request a formal review based on new information. Both parents would have to provide financial documentation to the agency. If they agree a change should be made, they'll calculate the new payment and submit it to a judge for review.
  • You could make a formal request directly to the court. In your request, you'd need to explain the substantial circumstances warranting a change in child support. The judge would review your petition and your and your former spouse's financial information. They would allow you both the opportunity to make your case. Then, the judge would decide whether to allow a change in child support and, if so, how much.

Can child custody terms be changed after the divorce is final?

Child custody terms can also be changed after a divorce has been finalized, provided you can prove a substantial change in circumstances. 

Here are a few examples of how a change in child custody terms could play out.

Primary custodial parent moves away

Emma is the primary custodial parent. Her ex has every other weekend with their children. Emma gets a new job in a city three hours away. The job change significantly increases her salary and ability to provide for her children. She petitions the court to change custody so she can move the children to the new city with her. 

Emma may have to make some concessions, like giving up all holiday breaks, to make sure her ex-spouse still gets adequate time with their children.

A child develops a severe disability

An eight-year-old child has been living with his mother since his parents’ divorce. However, due to the sudden onset of a severe childhood disability, his mother realizes she can no longer provide sufficient care for him alone. She needs help from the father. The mother petitions the court for a modification in the child custody agreement which allows for shared custody between both parents.

A parent with joint legal custody moves overseas

A divorced couple has joint legal custody of their seven-year-old daughter, who primarily lives with her father while spending nine weekdays each month with her mother. The father gets an unexpected job offer overseas and must relocate immediately. He doesn't want his daughter to have to leave the country.

The parents agree to modify their original arrangement so the daughter lives exclusively with her mother during school months but spends the summer and holidays with her father abroad.

How to change child custody orders post-divorce

This process is extremely similar to the steps required to modify child support. The biggest difference is that the court has a strong desire to afford the child a continued relationship with both parents. Thus, beyond demonstrating a change in circumstances, you must show that the relationship between the child and each parent will remain intact, that each parent can meet the child's needs, and that the child can maintain their familial relationship if the current order is changed.

Can Hello Divorce help me with a child support or child custody change?

Yes, Hello Divorce can support you with your child support and child custody modification. We offer attorney services where you can speak with an attorney who can give legal advice and guide you through this change. Note that in addition to a modification of child support or custody, changed circumstances may also give you a reason to seek a change in spousal support/alimony.

To learn more about how we can lighten your load on your divorce journey, we invite you to schedule a free 15-minute phone call with an account representative.

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.